What’s life with your canine without some slobbery kisses throughout the day?
You may have assumed it’s just your dog’s love language, but there’s more to licking than you think.
Expert dog behaviourist Philippa Short takes us through why dogs lick and what to do if they’re getting a bit too enthusiastic.
Dog licking is a whole language in itself! By licking, your pup can tell you a lot about how they’re feeling, both physically and emotionally.
Licking in general can be a soothing behaviour that creates calming hormones, whether that’s licking you, themselves, another animal, or surfaces. But there are also lots of other reasons for licking behaviour.
A cheeky lick from an adolescent male dog or a female canine in heat can be a warning sign that they’re about to hump. So don’t be surprised if your arm or leg is suddenly occupied by a four-legged friend.
Licking for a minute or so after eating might help your dog get their digestive juices flowing. But lengthy licking after meals can be a sign of stomach pain. Your dog’s food may be unsuitable and is causing them digestive problems.
Tasting the air
There are plenty of yummy scents in the air that your pup may be trying to smell and taste. This could be some tempting food or even the pheromones of another dog.
Female dogs having a phantom pregnancy can have sore nipples and try to lick them to relieve any pressure from lactation.
She may also be excessively licking your hands, arms, or a toy as a displacement nursing behaviour.
Petting your pooch can lead to mutual grooming. They will nibble up and down your skin and then lick you to ‘put your coat down’.
Puppy suckling behaviour
A young puppy taken away from their mum too soon may try to bond with you by suckling your hands and skin.
This echoes nipple suckling time with their mum but is harder to do with your skin. So you may notice your puppy suckling your fingers or licking you instead.
Puppies will also often lick around people’s mouths, similar to how they would lick mum’s muzzle to regurgitate food.
Signs of pain
If your pup is licking people and surfaces for no clear reason (or any reasons we’ve already mentioned), they could be in pain.
Dogs will lick parts of their body that are hurting them. But any hard-to-reach painful areas – like the stomach – will instead cause your dog to lick the air out of frustration.
This is quite common with Bulldogs and other brachycephalic dog breeds known for getting an itchy, infected tail pocket.
Sensing something’s wrong
Sometimes a dog can suddenly begin to obsessively lick one part of their human. This could suggest that they sense and smell something is wrong.
If this behaviour is brand new, relentless, and always hyper-fixated around the same area, think about getting yourself checked over by a doctor.
Your dog keeps licking you because you’re so tasty! In all seriousness, your canine may be licking you because they like:
Licking can be a really positive behaviour for your dog. Proactively giving them an outlet for their licking each day can:
Ways to bring in positive daily licking include:
Not to worry if you don’t want to buy any new feeders – try upcycling a takeaway container instead:
Licking is a problem when it’s taken to excess – and this level of ‘acceptability’ is something only you can decide.
So if you’re happy to let your dog lick you, it’s then unfair to get upset if your dog goes to lick friends or family members.
New, sudden, or obsessive licking is a sign that your dog needs to see a vet. They can do a full medical work-up and check for issues like gastrointestinal problems.
Displacement licking or extreme licking to bond with you means that a qualified behaviourist needs to be brought in to help.
Managing courtship licking
When it comes to licking that leads to humping, you have two options:
Managing digestion licking
Extreme licking after eating is a sign that your dog needs to either:
If neither of these apply, it could be your dog’s food – think about whether the food or protein type you’re feeding them is right. You might also want to think about seeing a qualified pet nutritionist.
Managing air licking
It’s normal for your male pup to check the mating status of females in the area and air scent for hormones. Once any females have come out of season, air licking should become less frequent.
Managing licking during phantom pregnancy
You don’t want your girl to lick her undercarriage during a phantom pregnancy as this could cause mastitis. Temporarily put her in a t-shirt and then take her to the vet for medication to end the symptoms.
Managing grooming licking
If your dog has got into a habit of grooming you, try to displace the nibbling and licking onto a toy or licky mat.
Management can also be introduced if general licking of your skin becomes inappropriate:
You can also put training in place to teach your dog a ‘sit stay’, ‘down stay’, or ‘in your place’.
Managing puppy suckling/licking
Dealing with suckling can be tricky, especially with a very young puppy desperate for suckling time:
Managing licking out of pain or anxiety
Your dog should always see a vet if they are obsessively licking one place on their body.
Licking that’s anxiety-driven needs a professional behaviourist to deal with the root problem and not just the licking.
Managing attention licking
Changing the way you interact with your pup can help with attention-licking. Acknowledging the licking – whether positively or negatively – gets them the attention they want, so they keep doing it.
So you’ll need to either:
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